Change is happening and ACE is making a difference

As ACE chairman Mike Haigh reaches two-thirds through his year in office, he spoke to Infrastructure Intelligence about how his first eight months in post have gone and what he’s learned.

When I took over as chairman of ACE, I targeted better industry integration, effective use of digital information and improving diversity and inclusion as my key priorities during my 12 months in office. My eight months as chairman have convinced me that these are absolutely the right things to be driving.

When I was at the ACE Awards earlier this year, not only was I able to use the event as a platform to continue to drive all of these things - and I have used lots of occasions during the year to try and make sure that the industry is embracing all these issues - it was interesting to see that people were talking about these issues and that the winners these issues were also highlighted. Not just as a single agenda either. The shortlisted entries for diversity also showed strong inclinations for better industry integration and use of technology, so we can see that these things are cross-cutting and coming together and that feels really good.

Looking at diversity, there’s a lot of talk about skills shortages and uncertainty in the marketplace in terms of skill availability. I think we have had a lot of success in pushing diversity as an industry and though there is a lot more to do, we are moving firmly in the right direction. It gave me huge pride to be involved with the Royal Academy of Engineering in launching their LGBT Plus videos earlier in the year and there have been several things like this taking place. 

Still in the context of skills shortages, making sure that the industry makes available different routes to professional qualification is important. ACE is doing a really great job here with apprenticeships and the work of its Training Apprenticeship Consortium group, in not only benefiting members but also playing a leading role in helping to define how apprenticeships move forward.

As far as the infrastructure industry is concerned, are we really making progress in bringing the entire sector together in a more collaborative way? I have tried to push this during the year and I think there is a momentum. We see things like Project 13, the National Infrastructure Commission, the Infrastructure Projects Authority and the Construction Leadership Council and people are really talking about the need for a different way of delivering infrastructure which is much more integrated and collaborative. We are seeing this starting to come through in behaviours, with collaboration now being a major part of the procurement process.    

As ACE and individual organisations, we need to keep up the pressure. There are some great lessons to be learned and what you have seen in the water industry over the last 15 years, with a move towards much more integrated delivery, has shown that efficiency can be generated but it does need a different approach to procurement and a different mind-set.

Moving onto technology, as an industry we absolutely have to embrace digital technology and the use of data in finding better and more sustainable solutions. It’s really excellent that in November ACE is hosting the first ever CIO Conference for technology leaders in our industry, which we will take as an opportunity to be able to showcase some of the ways that data is now being used differently. Using new technology better can make the industry more attractive and exciting to new people too. It is a changing world that we operate in and we have to attract the new generation.

ACE has a huge role to play in being a voice for our industry and in bringing together all of the great things that are happening in a way that gives them a louder voice and a greater ability to influence. Over the last eight months I have seen that first hand. I’ve found it both a challenge but also exhilarating to feel that in my role as chairman I have that voice and I am listened to in a way that is different to simply being a senior person from one organisation. I hope that we will continue to see ACE playing that leadership role and being able to demonstrate that we are making a difference.

Mike Haigh is group managing director at Mott MacDonald and the current chairman of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.